As the All India Football Federation, the governing body for the beautiful game in the country, hosted its second open house in Dubai to attract prospective investors in order to secure a minimum of two clubs for the next edition, the football fans across the nation wondered what direction is Indian Football headed to and what to expect in the next edition. The I-League clubs under the aegis of I-League Professional Football Clubs Association (IPFCA) also met in order to discuss their stance on proposed addition of minimum of two clubs for the next edition.
AIFF plans to induct a minimum of two corporate backed football clubs in the next edition of the I-League by inviting bids and the first open house in this regard was held in Delhi in March followed by the second edition in Dubai, to attract not just domestic but even international investors. AIFF President Mr. Praful Patel on the sidelines of the second open house said
In keeping with AIFF’s mission of promoting Indian Football to a larger Global Audience, this is a vital step being taken to adopt additional teams and invest in our youth. By inviting participation from regional investors and offering them a sound investment opportunity, we are certain we will be able to raise the brand value of the I-League, evolving it to become a truly futuristic and versatile tournament
AIFF expects the new club to develop State-of-the-Art infrastructure so that the youth development programs can be carried. The new clubs are expected to develop their own stadiums and focus on youth development so that the game can be taken to the next level in the nation. AIFF has also offered them a three year relegation freeze according to reports.
The state of football stadiums across the country is worse and with only a few of them having operational flood-lights, the matches are played in the afternoon. The afternoon kick-off forces the players to play in the 40 degree heat and fails to draw crowds. The development of stadiums by the new clubs will change this for the good and will draw crowds to the stadium.
A majority of I-League clubs don’t have a proper youth system in place which includes Kolkata giants – East Bengal and Mohun Bagan and these clubs struggled in the U-20 I-League as well. With youth development likely to stay the priority of the newly formed clubs that, we can expect better young players to come out in future. The development of players at an age of 10 and 12 is extremely important and AIFF enforcing youth development as a key point for the new clubs is indeed a positive signal for the I-League
The success of IPL and now Hockey India League shows that the entry of corporate world can make the game more spectator friendly and give it more coverage in media. If the clubs can get in some of the big name players to play in India, it will be take the game to another level. Proper marketing of the game is a concept that is alien to the Indian clubs at the moment and with the corporate based clubs likely to indulge in this direction in order to maximize their revenue, we may see this thing catch up with the other clubs as well. The European clubs are known to have separate marketing teams and a major share of there revenue comes through marketing various aspects of these clubs.
Also, if new clubs are based in North or South India , it will give I-League a pan India image and promote the sport in regions where it is not so popular yet.
A state like Kerala is struggling to get a representative club in I-League but the passion for the game in the state is well known as we saw in the just concluded Santosh Trophy and hence the state is best suited for investment in the country at the moment. With Kolkata, Goa and North-East brimming with clubs at the moment which enjoy tremendous fan-base, the regions like Kerala, Bangalore, Delhi and Punjab which once boasted of a club like JCT are best suited for the new clubs to open
The proposed relegation freeze for the two new clubs will be unfair to existing clubs who have been managing their affairs despite not making any sort of profits. The clubs have openly spoken against the relegation freeze for the two new clubs and have voiced their concern. The existing clubs have also demanded similar sort of relegation freeze to be given to be them as well and is the AIFF does grant them, it will put the I-League in a very peculiar state and the division-2 will become meaningless.
Promotion of Corporate based clubs to I-League, which will have no fan base to start of with, instead of popular clubs like Royal Wahingdoh or Mohammedan Sporting which have traditional fan base is also debatable.
These clubs draw in tremendous crowds in their home matches and it remains a doubt if the two clubs that will be promoted can generate any fan-base.
The economic existence of the I-League clubs will also be challenged with the arrival of corporate based clubs if they manage to lure away the top players in the country. Clubs like United Sikkim and Air-India are struggling to survive in the I-League and one of the main reasons for that has been low budget. Economic Losses were the main reason behind the closure of JCT and Mahindra United.
The Final Word
AIFF believes that this step will take I-League to the next level and there some rumors of some big EPL clubs willing to co-own a clubs in India. The inclusion of the corporate clubs, like any new thing, has its own merits and demerits and nobody knows which direction they will take the I-League but the AIFF will have to be cautious in its approach to ensure that its doesn’t hamper Indian Football and leads to the betterment of I-League.